The Ale Flip: a beer cocktail heated with a fire poker. Great for both a chilly day or summer camping trip.
One of my first forays into historical gastronomy was inspired by a book called Taverns of Yesteryear.
In 2003, I had just moved into an apartment off of Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I’d live with my new roommate Jeff for all but one of the next 8 years. Early in our time together, we took a walk down the street to the local antique store, Attenson’s, four rooms and two floors packed floor to ceiling with treasures. We both especially loved the Bargain Basement, down the stairs, where chintzy and unwanted goods sat collecting dust on plywood shelves.
I don’t remember which one of us spotted Taverns first, but I know I bought it at Jeff’s urging. Published in 1960 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of “Schmidt’s of Philadelphia,” (Schmidt’s brewing closed in the mid-1980s, now it’s a dining and shopping center) it’s of a genre of books that were published when America was gearing up for its bicentennial. A slew of historical works came out, including some focused on food history. They were nostalgic, if not always accurate, tributes to historic eating and drinking.
Taverns started with what it calls a “brief ramble among Pennsylvania’s early inns and taverns.” In the back of the book, there were recipes. One caught our eye that seemed particular appalling: an Ale Flip
2 quarts beer
1/2 oz cinnamon
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 glass ale
Break the eggs and separate the whites. Removed the peel from the lemon and cut in thin strips. Put the beer and ale in a large saucepan, add lemon peel, cinnamon and sugar, and bring to a boil. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl. Remove the saucepan from the fire and pour its contents onto the beaten-up egg whites. Without stirring the mixture, empty it into one of the pitchers. Pour it smartly back and forth from pitcher to pitcher, until the froth is deep. Serve in glass mugs.
Inspired by the book, Jeff & I (along with our third roommate, Tom) threw a party. Our excuse was when our friend Misha got his American citizenship; we celebrated with a Revolutionary War Party. There were costumes, as well as historic food, and the ale flip:
Photo cred: bankbryan
That’s me trying to pour it “smartly back and forth from pitcher to pitcher.” It was pretty bad; unevenly cooked meringue sitting on top of sweet, warm beer. One guest called it “hot beer custard.” I tried it again a few years later, and instead of pouring the concoction between pitchers, I beat egg whites into a meringue in a stand mixer, then slowly added the hot, mulled beer. It still tasted like hot beer custard.
The ale flip was indeed a drink consumed in 18th century New England taverns. As opposed to being heated in a saucepan, like the 20th century recipe, it was traditionally heated with a hot fire poker, and included a shot of rum as well as ale, eggs, and sugar. You can see it here in a 1772 bill from Bowen’s tavern in Rhode Island. It appears in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 bartending guide here; he adds grated nutmeg to the mixture. This 1897 book on life in old-timey England (another work of nostalgia) adds a blade of mace, a clove, and a piece of butter.
I decided to give the ale flip another chance when I came across in the modern book Cooking with Fire, which I’ve written about before when I tried the author’s “burnt cream” recipe . I’ve been planning an 18th century tavern dinner with Old Stone House of Brooklyn and Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. It’s going to be a three course, 18th century meal with beer pairings–tickets and menu here–and I thought it might be nice if guests got a winter warmer when they walked in: the ale flip.
So I gave it one more shot, this time following historic recipes, and using a real fire poker. Here’s what it looks like when you plunge the poker in the drink:
And now I understand. This ale flip had intensely creamy mouth feel from the protein in the gently cooked egg. It’s slightly sweet from the brown sugar, but the brown ale gave a not unpleasant bitter coffee taste. The rum gave it an extra kicked that warmed inside and out.
So here’s my version. If you have a fireplace, I highly recommend it. And if you live in New York City Are, come on out on Wednesday, March 16th to our tavern feast and I’ll make one for you in person. Proceeds from the dinner benefit the rebuilding of Old Stone House’s outdoor cooking hearth and bread oven–where I teach classes every spring!
The ingredients: beer, brown sugar syrup, rum and an egg.
The Ale Flip
Based on an 18th Century New England tavern drink.
For the Sugar Syrup:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 of a grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
4 blades mace
and if you’re feeling fancy, a couple smashed cardamom pods.
Combine in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat without stirring. Remove from heat.
For the drink:
1 bottle brown or amber ale (12 oz) room temperature and preferably flat. Just open a bottle, or a growler, and let it sit out.
2-3 tablespoons sugar syrup
1 ounce dark or golden rum
Combine first three ingredients in a heat safe mug or bowl wide enough to accommodate the top of the fire poker. Whisk until egg is slightly frothy. Add rum.
Heat a fire poker in coals until hot. Pull out of the fire and plunge into mug/bowl. Remove when bubbling stops. If a little ash gets in there, it’s not going to hurt anyone–and you can scoop it off the top with a spoon. If the drink isn’t warm enough; repeat. Top with a bit of fresh, grated nutmeg.
A finished flip!